A terrific pianist and conceptual striver whose notion of conflating adjacent styles and historic jazz eras has guided a big chunk of his recorded work, Aaron Diehl makes a very compelling case for derring-do on this new album. Because his instrumental authority is so striking, he pulls off almost any gambit he thinks up – and he’s got a deep imagination. So as he positions octogenarian masters Benny Golson and Joe Temperly with a much younger team and sets a bouncy bolero duet next to an elaborate blues suite for quintet, while also providing an art song cum poetry piece for vocalist Charenee Wade to mold to her liking, a vision is solidified. Diehl works diligently to entertain us with a wide scope.
This era-hopping and genre-splicing fulfills on the promise of the record’s title, but it’s more fun to enjoy the music’s natural charm than it is to absorb its thesis. Last time out, on The Bespoke Man’s Narrative, Diehl made some of his points by aligning the MJQ, “Single Petal of a Rose” and Ravel. Here it’s mostly originals that contain expansive elements of the rich history the pianist adores. “Flux Capacitor” invites saxophonist Stephen Riley to use his breathy (and Pres-y) ‘40s sound to fly through a modern landscape – an apt juxtaposition if you recall Doc Brown’s invention inBack To The Future. On the pithy “Broadway Boogie Woogie” he shoots Bud Powell’s “Parisian Thoroughfare” into turbo mode.
The core trio of Diehl, bassist David Wong and drummer Quincy Davis is pliable enough to make their steady shifts utterly natural. On “Santa Maria” the threesome chops up the tune from measure to measure, accenting each a bit differently than the rest and keeping the action percolating with a disarming ease. And when bari lord Temperly builds his greenery up the lattices of “The Steadfast Titan” the group’s solemn swing snuggles right into an apropos posture. Same goes for the down-home fluency of the mighty Golson on “Organic Consequence.” Sometimes I’d like them to throw their elbows around a bit more, dig into the splashy expressionism they prove to have a knack for during the album’s closing moments, but in the large, the finesse that marks Team Diehl is plenty appealing – something that should be valued regardless of the era you’re working in.